Special Report: The Mysterious Assassination of Jovenel Moïse

Haiti holds funeral for assassinated President Jovenel Moise in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, July 23, 2021. Photo credit: REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

Despite the arrest of alleged Colombian mercenaries and Haitian-American doctor Christian Emmanuel Sanon – described as one of the masterminds behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse – there remain many unsettled issues surrounding the fatal July 7 attack.

How come none of the 20 or so police officers who were guarding the presidential couple’s residence were killed or injured? Who were the main sponsors of such a crime? And why? 

These are some of several questions that arise as a result of the assassination of a president who kept denouncing a political “system” that had propelled him to power on February 7, 2017.

Prior to his election, Jovenel Moïse (elected with less than 600,000 votes in an election that saw a voter turnout of 18.11 percent) was vilified by a segment of the population and a political opposition hostile to the PHTK (Haitian Tèt Kale Party) regime. 

Until his assassination, his term in office was marked by a series of protests. On several occasions, at the behest of the “PetroChallenger” movement, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince and provincial cities to demand accountability for the use of PetroCaribe funds and the resignation of the late president. 

Moïse, who ran a company by the name of Agritrans before his election, was mentioned in a 600-page report by the Superior Court of Accounts and Administrative Disputes (CSCCA) regarding the abuse of PetroCaribe funds. 

The deceased president always rejected accusations of corruption and claimed political persecution. He never stopped pointing the finger at opposition actors who, he claimed wanted to assume power without going through elections. 

What about the elections? 

Since the ascension to power in 2011 of musician Michel Martelly, Moïse’s political mentor, the PHKT regime failed to call elections to renew parliamentary representation. 

The parliament remained deprived of its Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate. With only 10 senators still in office, the institution became dysfunctional. 

The judiciary has also been dismantled, with judges whose mandates have not been renewed and vacancies in the Court of Cassation that have not been filled. The city councils throughout the country are run by interim agents appointed by Moïse through executive orders. 

The political elite, human rights organisations and other sectors of civil society had accused the late president of being a dictator who had hijacked all the powers of the state. For several months, the executive remained the only truly functional power in the country. 

As the main actor in the political conflict, Jovenel Moïse had continually called on the different sectors to engage in discussions in an attempt to resolve the political crisis. However, the parties argued that Moïse (who had seven prime ministers before his assassination) had not created the necessary conditions to facilitate such a dialogue.

The Security Challenge

For more than two years, the security environment in Port-au-Prince and in other cities of the country deteriorated badly, with clashes between armed gangs for domination of territory. Murders, assassinations, massacres, kidnappings … are just some of the punishments that many families experienced over the last two years. 

The largest gangs in Port-au-Prince have even merged and continued to commit crimes, including kidnapping, with impunity. The Moïse administration had always been blamed for protecting the gangs by providing them with arms and ammunition for electoral purposes. 

In light of the deteriorating security situation, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, human rights organisations, civil society organisations, and members of the international community had called on President Moïse to step down from power, particularly on February 7, 2021, the date on which his constitutional term of office expired. 

This was in accordance with the controversial Article 134-2 of the 1987 Haitian Constitution which reads: “[A] Presidential election shall take place the last Sunday of November in the fifth year of the President’s term.”

Moïse was declared elected in the first round of the presidential election held in October 2015, but the vote was invalidated due to fraud. He was proclaimed the winner in the second round of the re-run election a year later. He was finally sworn in on February 7, 2017. 

His supporters therefore believed that his term of office only began on that date and will end on February 7, 2022. But the opposition and other sectors argued that the mandate ends on February 7, 2021. This has been a crisis within a crisis, due to the absence of a Constitutional Council that could have settled the issue.

The Last Straw

For several months, Moïse had announced his intention to provide the country with a new constitution. He argued that the 1987 Constitution on which he had taken an oath had been a “pact of corruption”. 

To make his plan a reality, he issued a presidential order on October 29, 2020, published in the official newspaper Le Moniteur de la République, establishing the Independent Advisory Committee (IAC) for the drafting of a new constitution.

Lawyers, the political opposition, political actors, and members of civil society however expressed their surprise at this move, deeming it “unconstitutional and illegal.” 

Despite warnings from all sides, Moïse insisted on the completion of his bill. “This is nothing but a flagrant forfeiture,” former president Jocelerme Privert (February 14, 2016 – February 7, 2017), stated. 

“No constitutional provision and no text of law recognises Jovenel Moïse’s competences as legislator and even less as constituent, which he has attributed to himself,” Privert said. 

According to Privert, the obsession “to conduct a referendum, to provide the country with a new constitution, shows simply a lack of judgment and rigour in the management of the state, and a lack of respect for the Constitution and the laws of the Republic.” 

“To want to organise a referendum with the aim of having the popular vote to approve a new Constitution, made-to-measure, which would be in itself the founding act of a new Republic, dragging our country even further into the abyss whose very depths you seem to misjudge,” wrote former Prime Minister Robert Malval in a text that was published in the columns of the daily Le Nouvelliste. 

This was a rare intervention in the media from Malval since he retired from active politics a little over 25 years ago.

Originally scheduled for April 25, 2021, Moïse’s constitutional referendum was postponed to June 27 due to the severity of the political crisis. The widely contested initiative was eventually postponed indefinitely. 

“This decision is motivated by the difficulties for the Council to assemble and train all the temporary staff for the conduct of the election,” said the Provisional Electoral Council of Haiti in a statement that curiously referred to the coronavirus pandemic. 

So far, the pandemic has spared Haiti with a little more than 523 deaths officially recorded, according to the latest report of the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP). 

Vaccinations only commenced in mid-July, thanks to 250 doses of Moderna that the US government provided, hardly enough for a population of over 11 million.

“Corrupt Oligarchs”

Jovenel Moïse, whose electoral campaign was financed by members of the Haitian private sector, had promised to improve the living conditions of the population. He put himself in the position of defender of the most vulnerable, while the reality turned out to be quite different. 

One of his key promises was to electrify the entire country. It was a project that appeared dead in the water well before the assassination. He had targeted a private sector group he described as a group of “corrupt oligarchs”. He revoked an electricity contract that had been binding between the Haitian state and Sogener, a private sector firm (owned by the Vorbe family) that produces electricity on behalf of the state. 

While allies of the government and a segment of the population welcomed Moïse’s decision, others accused him of fighting certain businessmen whom he described as “oligarchs” while colluding with others. 

Reginald Boulos, one of the businessmen who financed Jovenel Moïse’s electoral campaign, was quick to publicly condemn the president’s management of power. The businessman appeared repeatedly before the Anti-Corruption Unit (ULCC) where he had often been invited to provide explanations on possible irregularities regarding loans he had received from the ONA (National Old Age Insurance Office). 

The ULCC even issued a warrant against Boulos after rejecting a final invitation to appear. Boulos and members of the political opposition considered this political persecution against the businessman who is now a politician. 

Boulos’ businesses have been the targets of looting and arson twice during the crisis. Other businesses have also suffered during these turbulent times. A situation that has worsened the unemployment situation.

“To portray yourself as the standard bearer of anti-corruption when you preside over a corrupt power; as the enemy of predators when you surround yourself with them; to denounce the opposition as opportunistic and without projects when you do not make the people dream; to boast of being the guarantor of peace and progress when fear inhabits all consciences and the country is sinking into misery, it is to open the way to all audacities and to expose oneself to all the dangers,” Robert Malval surmised.

Indeed, many of Moïse’s decisions have had serious consequences on the country’s economy. During the mandate of the late president, the gourde (the Haitian currency) lost 40 percent of its value. 

“Following the many promises made to the nation, commitments here and there, the living conditions of the Haitian population have not improved. Regarding economic growth, employment, stabilisation of the economy and external balance, the results are not brilliant. On the contrary, the situation has gotten worse,” said economist Enomy Germain.

The Mysterious Assassination

The political elite and a significant portion of the population had been calling for Moïse’s for several months, but not for his assassination. 

Haiti woke up in shock on July 7 to the terrible and mysterious news of the president’s assassination. If the police announced the arrest of the attackers, the intellectual perpetrators are still to be found.

For the relatives and allies of the deceased, he was murdered for having challenged the “corrupt oligarchs”. 

According to the authorities, Moïse had offered himself as a martyr in defence of the weakest. During the state funeral for the murdered president – an event marked by violence on Friday, July 23 in Cap-Haitien – the presidential family denounced the “traitors” who had surrounded Moïse. 

According to Joverlain Moïse, his father was a “hero”, a man who had been “good to everyone” and who had “advocated togetherness”. 

“He was assassinated because of his ideas. However, we must not forget that an idea is more powerful than a single individual. The ideas will remain forever if they take root in our hearts,” Joverlain said.

For Martine Moïse, her late husband was simply “betrayed and abandoned”. 

“The predators are there, watching us, listening to us,” she said, maintaining that “they plotted against her husband, dooming him to die in a barbaric way.” 

As her late husband was used to highlighting, Martine Moïse denounced, between the lines, a “mafia” political system under which Jovenel Moïse would be a victim.

“For having been a victim for a long time, he knew well the flaws of this rotten and unjust system that no one before him wanted to talk about. This system that few before him wanted to challenge. We decided to start this battle for a change. He found himself overnight with the whole system against him,” she complained.

Her close security has been provided by US personnel since her return from Miami where she was treated for her injuries during the attack against her husband. 

Jovenel Moïse is leaving a political landscape that is still plagued by division. After a few days at the helm of the country’s affairs, former Prime Minister Claude Joseph handed over prime ministership to Ariel Henry, who had been appointed by Moïse. 

Henry was to be sworn in on the very day of the assassination. Organising elections at the end of this year, improving the security environment in the country, and completing the investigation into the assassination are the main objectives of the new government, which is widely perceived to be the product of a reshuffled and already tested PHTK. 

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